R version of RCZ costs £32,000, charges to 62mph in 5.9 seconds

R version of RCZ costs £32,000, charges to 62mph in 5.9 seconds

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Audi, or Peugeot? No contest. But what if the question is instead TT or RCZ R? Trickier. It would be ironic if PSA's cost cutting means this beautiful coupe won't have a replacement as the RCZ is already a successful, high-priced Peugeot.

Maxim Picat might not want to commit himself to a new sports coupe for the PSA division that he runs, but surely that’s a mistake? If you missed the recent interview, the Peugeot boss says he’s a big fan of the RCZ but wouldn’t say if there has been a green light for a successor. Vehicles like this usually have a lot of admirers. And not always enough customers. 

PSA was smart to try to take away sales from the TT and VW Scirocco by launching such a sexy looking car back in 2010 and to a degree, the idea has worked - certainly Scirocco sales have tanked in just about all markets, apart from the UK where it remains modestly popular. The TT also does well in Britain and the imminent arrival of the third generation should see sales of the Audi taking off once more throughout 2015.

Peugeot’s most recent tweaking of the RCZ was the addition of the R, a variant that just happens to be the most powerful series production Peugeot yet. The styling alterations aren’t major and yet they transform the car’s appearance. Lowered suspension, a rear wing, xenon headlamps, some big alloys and dual exhausts do wonders to lend the R a far more menacing look than other RCZs.

There had been a concept at the 2012 Paris motor show but given the strength of the car’s sales in the UK, it was fitting that the most powerful RCZ premiered at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. That was in the summer of 2013, with the new model going on sale from the start of this year.

Like all versions of this coupe, the R is manufactured by Magna Steyr at its Graz works in Austria. The contract should run until 2016 and there are strong rumours that a new model will also be made there, but nothing is yet confirmed. The 50,000th car was built in early 2013 and the firm is reportedly contracted to make 83,000 in all.

With build dwindling to under 9,000 in 2013 it's doubtful that the whole-life production target will be fulfilled by the end of 2016. But 75,000-80,000 seems possible, which would make this beautiful car anything but a failure. It would also render it highly collectable, particularly the top-spec R. PSA might even choose to have Magna keep making the model until 2017, giving it more time to plan and develop a second generation car which, unlike the current one, would surely be available as a convertible too.

The RCZ might be based on the first generation 308 from 2007, but the only external shared parts are the door handles and headlights. The age of the basic PF2 platform can be told from things such as the lack of stop-start, yet the R’s 145g/km CO2 average isn’t too bad. There’s 199kW (270bhp) of power and 247Nm of torque from the 1,598cc turbo engine and the Combined fuel consumption is 44.8mpg, which equates to the high thirties in the real world. Lesser variants can be ordered with 156bhp and 200bhp 1.6-litre turbo engines or a 163bhp 2.0-litre diesel. 

The looks might be what attracts buyers to the RCZ R but it’s the way it handles, takes off and stops that would sell it on surely every test drive. The 0-62mph sprint takes just 5.9 seconds and maximum speed is limited to 155mph. Unlike another rival, the Mini Paceman JCW, it's also a surprisingly relaxed motorway cruiser thanks to some well spaced gear ratios - these also clearly play a part in the impressive economy numbers. 

Getting the power down to the road can be tricky in the wet despite the width of the 235/40 R 19 tyres and the standard-fit Torsen (torque-sensing) differential. The steering has great feel, even if it's not quite in the same league as, say, an Astra VXR or Focus ST. You do find yourself wishing the torque was being sent to the rear wheels, or even to all four to take some of the pressure off the front driveshafts. The feel is there, in fact there’s almost too much feedback through your hands and up your arms when what you really want in a sports car is precision rather than a continuous communication of how close the tyres are to slipping. Still, this is a small price to pay for the absolute joy of available power and Peugeot Sport’s drivetrain, steering and suspension engineers have done a great job.

Stand and stare at this car for as long as you want, walk around it, look at the double-curved window and roof from above, but eventually you’ll want to know if the inside can live up to the promise of the exterior. It’s easy to get into and not too tricky to effect an elegant exit from, each of which matters a lot to the target customer. While you do get a rear seat, it’s probably best not to invite anyone you like to sit there as leg and head room are tight. That’s the price you pay for the low roof and stylised window, the shapes of which are a big part of this car being a possible future design classic.

The highly unusual lines of the turret mean that it’s supplied to Magna as a pre-assembled roof system with Saint-Gobain Sekurit responsible for the glass. The module comes from a Sapa Components factory in the Cotswolds. This is the same Swedish firm which sends aluminium cant rails to Jaguar for the roof of the XJ. Magna Exteriors & Interiors is the source of the seats and instruments module and the pedestrian protection system is from Magna Electronics. Other suppliers include BorgWarner (turbocharger), Delphi (radiator, antenna, mechatronic column), ZF (clutch and flywheel) and ThyssenKrupp Bilstein (rear springs and camshafts).

If Peugeot does replace this model, I would advise putting the word across the back of the car to help build the brand’s sporting image. On the current RCZ, the only place you see PEUGEOT is in small letters at the front. At the rear, it’s RCZ on the left, then the lion symbol, then the R at the far right. It’s subtle but perhaps too subtle.

Another couple of things which would help build up the brand’s image would be replacing the key with something nicer. The hard plastic is very 1990s and needs to be ditched: even Kia keys feel and look good these days. Something else that has to go is the rapid-flash of the indicators when you unlock. Premium is never manic. Premium is calm and quiet, so no clunking locking/unlocking either please. Such things are on so very many PSA cars and they shrug and say good enough when they should be considered. While I’m in whining mode, how about losing the orange interior lights for something softer. The RCZ range might start at just GBP22,100, but the R is well over thirty grand and it needs to look and feel that way, in all its details.

Such criticism only goes to show how close to great this car is. I still can’t get over its speed, and how well it handles. And then there’s the superb gearshift and the convincingly upscale interior. It’s a shame the 208 and new 308-style low steering wheel isn’t there but still the wheel itself is uncluttered, just as it is in a Boxster (OK, and yeah, in a Golf too - fair point). What looked like dark grey leather covered the dashboard and tops of the doors on the test vehicle, and there was red double-stitched detailing on both as well as on the leather and alcantara seats.

I did a west country to London and return trip in the same day, plus a lot of inevitable West End slow moving progress and never did I ache or long to get out. The clutch mechanism is perfectly weighted so not at all tiring in traffic and the moment the jams cleared on the Westway and I was M4 homeward-bound, the R was comfortable and honestly felt like a mini-R8. It also got a lot of glances, if not as many as the red Audi supercar did when I drove it on the same roads some months back. I could tell most people were trying to see the brand badge. 

Can Peugeot’s CEO Maxim Picat make a business case to his boss Carlos Tavares for a second generation RCZ? If he can’t, some of us are already thinking about getting hold of a low-mileage example of this current R and locking it away for a decade or more. Have you seen what people will pay for a mint 205 GTI or 504 Cabriolet?